Why Our HS Teachers Meant So Much To Us. I never set out to write a trilogy. That’s what it wound up. “Down Memory Lane”—our town, our HS, the people, the events. “Why You Didn’t Have Your Homework”—a look at the lighter side of excuses. Then this “Why Our HS Teachers Meant So Much To Us”.
That last one I was never smart enough to figure out, even though I’ve thought about it many times over the years. I do have some observations.
My speech teacher was some kind of character. I specifically remember two times when she put me in an embarrassing situation. Once in class which was uncomfortable. The second on stage before the entire student body. That last one turned out okay though, because when I delivered my words in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (perhaps I should say delivered in a native tongue, that of a lion) the audience laughed, and continued laughing when the scene was over. Of course I couldn’t laugh on stage, but I did when I was off.
Once when there was no one else around but she and I, I embarrassed her with an incident I told her about. She proved she could take it as well as dish it out. She laughed, and it became our private joke with a key word either one of us might say in class that provoked a laugh between the two of us, but no one else had any idea why we were laughing. She took our joke to her grave. I’ll do the same.
She was also my debate coach. I remember one of the other area high schools had a member of their debate team who fancied himself better than anyone else. My debate partner and I were going to debate he and his debate partner. Our teacher had prepared the two of us well, her most salient point being to never be afraid of anyone.
Their team was affirmative and spoke for the allotted ten minutes. My debate partner went for our ten minutes, a very good oratory if I ever heard one. It then shifted to rebuttal which went in reverse order. I used a minute of our five minutes to summarize my debate partner’s original presentation, then I launched into an attack on the other team with four specific points.
This “genius” had a huge memory, and digested my first two points without blinking once, and certainly not referring to his notes, which we all had on 3”x5” cards for quick reference.
My last two points saw him scrambling for answers to those, and frantically searching his cards. We lost the debate, but he momentarily lost his composure which for my debate partner and I, and our beloved teacher, was good enough to toast with a Coca Cola at the Tuscaloosa eatery.
There was a husband and wife who taught, he Chem, and she American Government, the best I recall. He was probably the only teacher I ever had who was bent and determined that anyone who survived his class would be a success in life. I’m not sure I qualified for that, but everybody else I know who walked through his classroom door did. He was always positive in his approach to anyone.
His wife was an enigma. She’d cut you to shreds in class, without any qualms about doing it. She found one of my personality traits not to be to her liking, and asked that I stay after class one day. I remember it as though it were earlier today.
She sat in the last desk by the windows, and I in the desk in front of her, turning around so we faced each other. She was mild mannered in her criticism, but very methodical. I sat there for every word, never once interrupting.
What she didn’t know is that I had my own agenda. I’m not sure what she was thinking, that maybe I would acknowledge her words and acquiesce to her demands. Instead when the last words rolled out of her mouth, the first words rolled out of my mouth, “Can we now discuss your arrogance?”
I don’t think I have ever seen a person with a redder face than she had, and probably blood pressure 500/400. She said not a word, and left the room.
Henceforth in class, when we made eye contact, I do think there was a hint of respect we had for each other.
One does not have a choice of who dies first in a marriage, but I believe he did, which was a shame, because he could have sustained himself well with his outlook on life. I can only think for her remaining days after his death, that she languished in her pitiful existence.
Two sisters taught at our HS. Lovely ladies. I think they liked me because I always made a 110% effort in their classes. Many of my friends thought I was smart. I wasn’t smart. I was blessed with an almost photographic memory, and that worked greatly in my favor. I don’t think either one of the sisters ever tried to determine why I made good grades in their classes. They accepted me at face value for ever how I was successful in their classes. I always respected them for that. They lived with their parents. During my four years of HS, their father died. They were sad, quite sad afterwards, but that never interfered with their attitude or ability in the classroom.
One of my favorites was my English teacher. Not sure why that was. I memorized “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, and recited it in class.. Quite a chore, I assure you. I don’t remember anyone else reciting it in class, so I may have been the chosen one, and I mean that in the sense of how could I have gotten out of it? My teacher must have been impressed, because she invited me to come to her Sunday School Class to recite it again. Again? I thought my mind evaporated on the first time through. This did seem like a good time to run away from home at least early Sunday morning, and return in time for my Mom’s fried chicken at supper. I never missed my Mom’s fried chicken, and no I did not recite “Thanatopsis” again at the supper table.
I’m not sure of the recitation time in that Sunday School Class, but it must have been fifteen or twenty minutes. Those ladies hung on my every word. Enthusiasm perhaps or more likely wondering at what point I’d forget the lines. When I finished I may have received greater thanks in another time in life, but if I did, I can’t remember it.
We had other teachers who stuck strictly to the curriculum, and were never ever willing to divulge anything about themselves. We were left only with our imaginations as to who they were. Their classes were routine and humdrum. I always ascribed to the fact you had to have a little fun as you went along the way.
There was another husband and wife team. She was the librarian, and he the boys’ counselor. She was straight from the movie concept of a librarian—quiet, detached, very few students knowing her. He, on the other hand, was one of the most popular teachers in the school.
I was always looking for extracurricular activities to add to my resume, so that when colleges looked at it, they wouldn’t think I was a self-centered egomaniac. I decided I’d work in the library for three months after school.
If a student took a book from the shelf, they were never allowed to return it to the shelf, and instead set it on a table. My job was to transfer that tableful back to their proper places on the shelves.
There were two girls who worked in the library as well, but by the time I finished my job, they would have gone home, and only the librarian and I remained. We had many good conversations before I left for the day, and I found her to be a very warm, gracious lady.
Perhaps two months into my stint at the library, her husband died suddenly, from a heart attack. None of us ever considered a man in his mid-forties, in excellent physical shape, could die of a heart attack.
His wife, our librarian, came back to school a week later, but her personality had entered the dark, desolate despair associated with a loved one’s death.
I continued to do my job, but we never again had those interesting conversations. Her words, to me, if there were any, were terse, which I could understand.
I finally came to the last few minutes of my final day, and did something I regret to this day. Or should I say didn’t do something I regret to this day.
I should have sat down with her, and held her hand, not in a romantic manner, but in comfort. And I should have told her in soft words, “You will get through this. You are one of the greatest ladies I have ever known.”
I didn’t do that. Why? I’ll never know. Maybe I thought I’d stumble in my efforts to do it right, to say the right words. Even if I had only gotten it partially right, that would have been better than nothing.
I should have told my friends to gather around her, but I didn’t. That might not have worked. I was one of the few who really knew her in her receding life.
As you get older you think of more do-overs you wish you could have done. You always get it right in the do-over. In life never.